By Jenny Neyman
Amid the chorus of groans and complaints that arise when snow falls, there can be heard a few other sounds — the scritch of a plastic ski scraper peeling off the summer’s protective coating of wax, the clatter of poles being retrieved from storage, snippets of conversation speculating whether there’s enough powder down or if Bill has groomed yet.
Last week’s snowfall was just enough to suppress the mud and detritus on Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School with a fresh layer of white.
“This is our number one activity in the winter. We pretty much look forward to it,” said Terri Springer, of Soldotna. She and her husband, Brian, were skiing at Tsalteshi Saturday afternoon.
“We talked to some friends who skied last night. We were shocked it was in that good a condition, so we grabbed everything this morning, hit the wax and drove over here,” Brian Springer said. “Bill did a great job getting these trails ready.”
“Bill” would be Bill Holt, in charge of trail maintenance at Tsalteshi. With barely 3 inches of snow down last week, and despite the fact that it was only Oct. 14, he ran grooming equipment over Tsalteshi’s 14,000-plus meters of trails. This is only the third time in the 13 years he’s been grooming at Tsalteshi that he can remember being able to ski so early.
“There were two years in a row when you actually started skiing on October 15,” he said. “One of those years we were skiing into April without any breaks. They weren’t always good days, and sometimes it’s marginal, but it has happened before that it’s started mid-October.”
There were some bare patches over the weekend, especially under large trees and on the slopes overlooking Skyview with direct sun exposure, but overall the trails were covered and skiing great, the Springers said.
“As good as the trails are out here, I don’t think many people have gotten the word yet. There aren’t many tracks out here yet,” Brian said.
Holt estimated there were only five or six people a day skiing Friday and Saturday.
“You can almost tell who’s been skiing from the tracks,” he said. “I’ve been having some e-mails from folks who have asked, ‘Is it really skiable?’ and I’ve said ‘yes.’ … The skiing’s actually really good. I had a lot of fun out there.”
It may have only been fun while it lasted, though. Sunday and Monday saw above-freezing temperatures, and there was rain in Soldotna on Monday night. The forecast for the rest of the week calls for highs in the 30s and only slight chances for snow.
“I’m praying that it sticks around. I see that water’s dripping off my roof now. That doesn’t bode well,” Holt said Sunday.
In packing down the snow that fell last week, Holt was hoping to drive frost into the ground and squeeze the air out of the snow so it would last longer than it otherwise would. Even if the trails don’t stay skiable, Holt is hoping the base he created stays at least mostly intact, so when new snow falls it will have something to stick to.
“With a good snow base there we don’t need much more powder, if we don’t lose this, to have really good skiing,” Holt said. “I would think another two inches of snow would be pretty good.”
Very good would be six more inches, and more restraint from motorized winter enthusiasts.
Early in the weekend a snowmachine drove over the Rabbit Loop, which branches off the soccer field, and on Saturday a four-wheeler tore up large sections of the Wolverine Loop — the one accessible by the trailhead on Kalifornsky Beach Road across from the Soldotna Sports Center. Whoever it was took out the fence bordering the parking lot, as well.
Holt spent time Saturday trying to undo the damage, but there wasn’t much snow to work with to erase the tracks.
“It was real frustrating. I had to end up going over it more than I wanted to,” Holt said. “The places where you go over a bump you cut down to dirt.”
The trail is closed to all motorized vehicles. Walkers and dogs also are asked to stay off the trails. Not only do they pose a safety hazard to faster-moving skiers, but footprints can also damage the trails.
“If they go in when it’s soft or after I’ve groomed and put footprints in it, they stay. I can’t really get them out because you can’t cut,” Holt said.
Tsalteshi will host Besh Cup classic sprint races this year, and Holt would like to have a new course built that starts by the football stadium, crosses the soccer field and goes up and down the hill overlooking the field. To do it, he’ll have to cut three more 30-foot-wide tracks traversing the hill.
Besh Cup results are used to determine Alaska’s representatives to Junior Olympic competitions.
“If we get more snow and start skiing there’s probably no way,” Holt said. “I can’t in good conscience drive a Cat over well-groomed ski trails.”
Holt and other workers made improvements to the trails this summer. The Beaver and Raven loops and Blue Bayou were widened in anticipation of extending the trails’ lighting system to those loops, possibly next year.
The base of the Raven Loop, where the biathlon range is, was also rerouted to ease the transition from the massive Raven downhill to heading back up the hill.
“We used to live in Anchorage,” Brian Springer said. “You’d ski at Hillside or Kincaid. This lacks nothing to those. They might be bigger, but as far as beautiful trails and different options, Anchorage doesn’t have anything on us.”
Tsalteshi eventsThe Tsalteshi Trails Association is planning a busy winter of events. For more information, specific times or to become a member, visit the Web site, www.tsalteshi.org, throughout the winter.
Many of the events are snow-dependent.
- Tsalteshi kickoff orienteering event, Nov. 14 4:30 p.m. Get acquainted with the trails by following clues to different locations on the trails. If there’s no snow, bring running or walking shoes.
- Youth learn-to-ski program for ages 8-14. starting in November. Ski rentals will be available for those needing equipment.
- Adult ski clinics, classic and freestyle, starting in November.
- Race series for classic and freestyle, Tuesday evenings starting in November.
- Annual Tsalteshi Trails Association Board meeting, 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Kenai River Center on Funny River Road. New board members will be elected and door prizes will be drawn for new and current TTA members in attendance.
- Wood, Wool and Wassail ski event, Dec. 28.
- Skyview Invitational high school ski races, Jan. 16 and 17.
- Besh Cup races, Jan. 24 and 25.
- Kenai Peninsula Borough School District high school borough races, Feb. 14.
- KPBSD region races, Feb. 20 and 21.
- Tour of Tsalteshi community race, with 15-kilometer and 30-kilometer races, March 14.